Every week, Combat Press takes a look at three regional, developmental and international cards from the upcoming weekend, previewing from each a single fight to which people should pay close attention. We will also list other significant bouts from the card, as well as information on how to follow each promotion and watch the events.

Let’s discover those prospects that fight in the obscurity of the regional, developmental and international circuits, waiting for their shot at the bright lights and big stage of the UFC, and those veterans looking for one more chance at stardom.

It all begins here, in the small convention centers and high school gymnasiums. It all begins with promotions such as these…

Legacy Fighting Alliance 50
Mystic Lake Center in Prior Lake, Minn.
Event Date: Sept. 21
Website: lfafighting.com
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @LFAfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Brendan Allen (9-3) vs. Tim Hiley (7-0)

Brendan Allen might just hold the record for most Legacy Fighting Alliance appearances in bouts for a vacant title. When he enters the arena on Friday night, it will be the third time Allen has competed for the vacant LFA middleweight strap. At LFA 14, Allen came up short against this weekend’s UFC headliner Eryk Anders for the title. Anders moved to the UFC for his very next fight. At LFA 32, Allen dropped a decision to Anthony Hernandez for the belt. Hernandez soon moved on to fight on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. This time, Allen’s opponent is the undefeated Tim Hiley.

The 22-year-old Allen already only has three losses on his record, but they’ve come against some very talented opposition. After opening his pro career in 2015 and scoring two victories, Allen suffered a loss to Trevin Giles, who is now undefeated through two UFC appearances. “All In” rebounded with five straight stoppage wins, including a submission of The Ultimate Fighter 13 alum Charlie Rader and a knockout of grizzled veteran Jon Kirk. Allen’s convincing stoppage of Kirk put him in line to fight Anders for the vacant LFA middleweight title, but Anders was able to outwork Allen over five rounds to take home the belt. Allen returned to the cage to pick up another submission win, this time with a first-round stoppage of prospect Chris Harris. He was rewarded with the title fight against Hernandez, but again fell short of his goal. Allen bounced back with an impressive knockout of Larry Crowe to once again climb into a contest for the vacant championship.

Hiley, 29, hasn’t enjoyed the same spotlight treatment as his counterpart. After a 7-1 run on the amateur circuit, the Pura Vida disciple made his pro debut in late 2015. He picked up a decision win, a submission and a knockout before stepping up to meet grizzled, sub-.500 veteran Eddie Larrea. Hiley tapped the journeyman with a second-round rear-naked choke. He added a decision nod over the 11-6 Charlie Brown before entering the LFA, where he has tacked on wins over Willie Whitehead and Tyler Vogel.

Could this finally be Allen’s night to capture the gold? The chances sure seem better than they did against Anders, a freight train clearly bound for the UFC, or Hernandez, an undefeated fighter who had more experience against veterans with winning records than we’ve seen from Hiley. Allen is a capable finisher in both the striking and grappling departments. The Roufusport fighter’s experience in title fights should be an added bonus to give him the edge over Hiley.

Hiley is no joke, though. His only ammy loss came to a fighter who has since gone on to amass a 7-0 pro record. He, too, has appeared under the bright lights of the LFA, but he has never had to go five rounds. Allen, meanwhile, has done so on two occasions.

These guys are accomplished finishers, so an early end to the night brought on by either man would not qualify as a shock. Yet, this seems like Allen’s night to finally end up on top. He trains out of a camp that produces UFCers on a regular basis. While he has played UFC gatekeeper through much of his LFA stay, this might be his chance to finally slide through those gates and into the UFC’s Octagon.

Other key bouts: Brian Heden (31-16) vs. Raphael Pessoa (8-0), Ben Neumann (13-5) vs. Bobby Lee (8-2), Jason Witt (13-5) vs. Ashkan Morvari (15-7), Oscar Askar (7-0) vs. Derrick Mandell (8-4), Calyn Hull (6-0) vs. Daniel James (7-3-1)

ONE Championship: Conquest of Heroes
Jakarta Convention Center in Jakarta, Indonesia
Event Date: Sept. 22
Website: onefc.com
Watch Event: free stream at onefc.com
Twitter: @ONEChampionship

Spotlight Fight:
Yoshitaka Naito (13-1) vs. Joshua Pacio (15-2)

This feels like déjà vu. Maybe that’s because it has happened before. Yoshitaka Naito, in his last successful ONE strawweight title defense before dropping the belt to Alex Silva, submitted Joshua Pacio in the first round with a rear-naked choke. Now, Naito, who regained the belt from Silva in the pair’s May rematch, is set to defend the belt against Pacio once again.

Naito was a Shooto mainstay from his pro debut in 2012 until he defected to ONE in 2016. The 34-year-old finished his first three opponents and scored decisions in his next four fights to earn a title berth against Shinya Murofushi for Shooto’s flyweight — that’s 115 pounds in Shooto-speak — title. “Nobita” battled Murofushi for nearly five full rounds before finishing the champ with a rear-naked choke with just three seconds left in the bout. With the dramatic late finish, Naito captured the title. The Paraestra Matsudo export returned to action 10 months later to make his first title defense against teenage prospect Ryuto Sawada. His next successful defense came in a five-round battle with Junji Ito. ONE Championship then brought the star strawweight in to fight for its 115-pound title against the promotion’s formerly undefeated champion, Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke. Naito claimed the gold with a fourth-round rear-naked choke of the defending champ. From there, Naito defended the title against Pacio, lost the strap to Silva and then regained it.

Team Lakay’s Pacio is well on his way to becoming the camp’s most successful fighter. The diminutive fighter started his pro campaign in 2013, and he has bounced between 115 and 125 pounds while winning fight after fight. The 22-year-old’s streak out of the gates resulted in three stoppages via strikes and five by way of submission. Pacio, who already holds ONE Championship wins over Rabin Catalan and Kritsada Kongsrichai, finally tasted defeat when he was submitted by Naito. He has gone 4-1 since that setback, but his lone loss came in a flyweight affair against Hayato Suzuki. Pacio has topped former champ Amnuaysirichoke via a split decision and added finishes over three other opponents to climb back into title contention.

Naito, who stands 5-foot-7, will tower over the 5-foot Pacio. He prefers to look for the clinch and takedown. Naito is a skilled grappler who opts for patience over a quick finish, but his initial win over Pacio shows that he can be swift. Typically, though, he’ll wait for his opponent to make a mistake and then seize upon the opportunity.

Pacio is a dangerous fighter who can finish fights on the feet or on the mat. However, we’ve seen plenty of fighters emerge out of Team Lakay and stumble when they run into strong international competition. It doesn’t get much stronger than Naito among the strawweight ranks. The Shooto and ONE champ is arguably the top dog on the planet within the division, and he presents a clear threat to Pacio when the fight hits the canvas. This was obvious in the pair’s first encounter. Pacio has rebounded in a tremendous way, but his only truly notable stoppage was his most recent win over Pongsiri Mitsatit. He barely edged Amnuaysirichoke on the scorecards and stopped mediocre opponents in his other fights.

Naito is likely to duplicate his prior success against Pacio. The challenger will be more prepared in this go-around, but that only means the fight will last a little longer before Naito finds the submission.

Other key bouts: Stefer Rahardian (8-1) vs. Xuewen Peng (2-4), Danny Kingad (9-1) vs. Yuya Wakamatsu (10-2), Marat Gafurov (16-1) vs. Koyomi Matsushima (9-3), Timofey Nastyukhin (12-3) vs. Saygid Guseyn Arslanaliev (5-1), Kairat Akhmetov (24-2) vs. Hao Bin Ma (11-3), Jomary Torres (4-0) vs. Priscilla Gaol (3-3)

Battle on Volga 6
MTL Arena in Samara, Russia
Event Date: Sept. 23
Website: mma63.ru

Spotlight Fight:
Denis Araujo (14-1) vs. Ali Bagautinov (16-6)

It’s been nearly two years since we last saw Ali Bagautinov inside the UFC. He’s gone on to add three wins and one loss to his record while fighting under the Fight Nights Global banner. Now, he takes a detour to compete at Battle on Volga 6, hosted by the Federation of MMA of Samara. The UFC veteran meets Jungle Fight flyweight champion Denis Araujo in a title affair — presumably for the Battle on Volga strap.

Bagautinov got off to a less-than-stellar start in his pro career. He won his debut, but went on to lose his next two fights. Things started to click when he joined the FNG promotion. He won his next 11 fights, including his first three Octagon appearances. This run included victories over Marcos Vinicius, Tim Elliott and John Lineker. By this point, the Russian was in the top 10 of his weight class and had earned a crack at UFC flyweight champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. Mighty Mouse handed Bagautinov a decision loss. The Russian went on to lose two of his next three fights, but the losses came to fellow elites Joseph Benavidez and Kyoji Horiguchi. The 33-year-old was cast out of the UFC, and he returned to FNG. After an initial stumble against Tyson Nam, who landed a head kick to knock out Bagautinov, the Russian found his rhythm again and has now reeled off wins over Pedro Nobre, Danny Martinez and Andy Young. While Bagautinov has demonstrated knockout power, he has primarily been a decision machine since his UFC days.

Araujo has fought as a pro since 2012 and streaked out of the gates with 10 victories before suffering his first and only loss. “Três Dedos” trains out of BH Rhinos and has eight stoppage wins — five knockouts and three submissions. Araujo’s most notable victories came in his run up to the Jungle Fight strap. He topped the formerly undefeated Leandro Soares in a flyweight showdown at Jungle Fight 91 and then decisioned Bruno Menezes for the vacant belt. His lone loss came against Deiveson Figueiredo, who went on to join the UFC roster after one additional victory.

Araujo, despite a fairly even amount of knockout and submission wins, looks more comfortable on the feet. The BH Rhinos fighter uses feints and a busy in-and-out style of movement while working stand-up. This could open him up to counters or takedowns from Bagautinov.

Bagautinov has become a grinder, but his UFC stint is his biggest asset here. He’s been in the cage with the best flyweights the world has to offer. While he failed in those contests, he did go the distance. He’s not an easy out, unless an opponent lands a well-placed head kick a la the aforementioned Nam.

Barring a stunner like Nam put up, Araujo is in for a long night. Bagautinov should hold the edge in all areas of this fight. While Araujo is a top flyweight prospect that the UFC will be watching in this fight, it’s doubtful he’s up to the challenge he’s faced with here. It should be a solid scrap, but Bagautinov will emerge with the judges’ nod.

Other key bouts: Ramis Teregulov (12-5) vs. Boubacar Baldé (13-11), Mark Volkov (4-0) vs. Abdurakhman Gitinovasov (1-0), Nurullo Aliev (2-0) vs. Artur Zainukov (6-2), Aygul Khabirova (5-0) vs. Liliya Shakirova (4-1), Karim Magomedov (4-0) vs. Vladimir Migovich (2-2), Abdusamad Sangov (11-2-1) vs. Rasul Magomedov (2-3)

Last Week’s Scorecard
Fight Prediction Outcome
DeAnna Bennett vs. Kelly Kobold at Tuff-N-Uff Bennett by decision Kobold by decision
Sean Brady vs. Gilbert Urbina at LFA 49 Brady by decision Brady by decision
Mika Arai vs. Hikaru Aono at Deep Jewels 21 Aono by decision Aono by decision

About The Author

Bryan Henderson
Editor-in-Chief

Bryan Henderson became a fan of MMA in the late '90s when he happened upon the early UFC events on VHS at a local video rental store. He started writing about the sport on his Sporting News member blog in 2007 before becoming an official staff writer for Sporting News' "The Rumble" MMA/boxing blog. He went on to become a staff writer and the Features Manager for MMA DieHards before moving on to The MMA Corner, where he assumed the role of Editor-in-Chief. Bryan left The MMA Corner in 2014 and founded Combat Press along with two of his colleagues. In addition to covering mixed martial arts, Bryan also operated the Modified Mind body modification e-zine website for more than a decade.

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